The morning after Thanksgiving, I woke up and ate homemade duck cassoulet with baked eggs and brown butter croissant French toast, because I was at Julia Child’s house, and that’s what you eat for breakfast when you’re living the dream. About six months prior, I read that Julia’s former home in Provence, France, was available to rent on Airbnb. My roommate, a fellow chef, and I looked at one another with wide eyes. “Could you imagine!?” we said, followed by at least ten rounds of “Should we?” We did. We put our paycheck-to-paycheck fears aside and gathered up four of our favorite women and multiple credit cards. As Julia once said, “In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” So we channeled our inner Julias and booked La Pitchoune for Thanksgiving.
Instead of planning our week of meals beforehand, we decided to let the French markets and Julia's spirit inspire us. Of course we still spent long nights prior to our trip curled up on our couch in Brooklyn, devouring early editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes 1 and 2. Her descriptions of a slow-simmered meaty cassoulet was just one of the many recipes we drooled over.
Now we were in the tiny town of Valbone, near Julia’s old house, staring at aisles of beautiful produce and meats—once again drooling. We found duck confit and some gorgeous sausages, and while gazing at the fresh, unrefrigerated eggs we heard Julia saying, “You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.” With that, we decided to put our Brooklyn spin on Julia’s cassoulet: We turned to canned beans for speed and decided to #putaneggonit. Well versed in the importance of a balanced meal, we grabbed some of the most beautiful croissants we’ve ever encountered and cream and butter—two of Julia’s first loves—and headed back to La Pitchoune to make our morning feast. It turns out, a quick cassoulet is just as decadent as a day-long braise, and the baked eggs on top made this the ultimate first real breakfast at Julia’s (the previous morning we ate robust cheeses and fresh baguettes). And brown butter croissant French toast? It was equal parts rich, warm, sweet, French, and Julia—just like our entire stay. From the famous pegboard of kitchen tools and the herbs available to pick fresh from the backyard to the late nights gathered in the living room, drinking three-euro rosé and talking until we fell asleep, Julia was with us every moment.
I can’t quite describe the feeling of putting a lifelong love of cooking into Julia Child’s pots and pans. We spent two days making a Thanksgiving feast filled with Julia’s classics, adding our own touches, and taking advantage of the free-for-all cabinet of ports and brandies. We made buttery sauces and roast chickens, braised artichokes, and sausage stuffing. We spent hours chopping shallots and garlic, picked herbs in the pouring rain, added splashes of wine, taking swigs in between. We even found time to do a mannequin challenge.
A wise woman once said, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” So try these recipes, or go rogue. Make them your own, put an egg on anything you want, and honor the woman who made so many of us fall in love with cooking.
By Theodora Kaloudis
- Yields: 6 servings
Place bacon in a large ovenproof skillet over medium. Cook bacon until crispy and brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pierce sausage all over with a fork and add to skillet. Cook, covered, flipping halfway through until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, allow to cool slightly, and slice into ½-inch rounds.
Add onion to same skillet over medium and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and Aleppo pepper and cook for an additional minute. Add beans, chopped tomatoes, chicken broth, and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
Add bacon, sliced sausage, and duck confit (if using) back to skillet and continue to cook until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and using the back of a large spoon, make 6 wells and crack the eggs into each. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook until egg whites are slightly set, about 5 minutes.
Preheat broiler with rack in the highest position. Toss breadcrumbs with a drizzle of olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and broil until eggs are just set and crust is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes (watch closely! Broilers vary in intensity). Serve immediately with a glass of wine (we won’t judge).
Baked Brown Butter Croissant French Toast
By Theodora Kaloudis
Preheat oven to 375F. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until butter is deep golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Grease a large baking dish with butter. Shingle croissants, cut side down, in the baking dish (it’s ok if they overlap slightly). Whisk milk, heavy cream, eggs, ⅓ cup sugar, salt, and brown butter (making sure to scrape in all the browned solids!) in a large bowl until combined.
Pour custard mixture over croissants and press croissants down into the mixture. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow for absorption, continue to press croissants down occasionally.
Sprinkle top evenly with remaining sugar. Bake until the croissant french toast is set in the middle, and the top is puffy and a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with your favorite jam or preserves.